Let me start by saying that my first jobs right out of high school were in Duluth restaurants. After starting as a busboy at the Old Country Buffet, I jumped ship and accepted a job at Orchards.

Do you remember Orchards? It was located in the Miller Hill Mall, which is now the home of Applebee's. They had great food and even better pies. I started there as a host before eventually becoming a waiter.

Back then, the servers were paid the lowest hourly wage because they had the advantage of earning tips. A good server would at times share tips with the bussers and even the hosts at times, but that wasn't the expectation in my situation.

The cooks were paid slightly better than hosts, bussers, and servers as they did not earn tips at all. Now, to be clear, nobody was getting rich here, I'm just pointing out the hierarchy at that time and place.

Who All Should We Be Tipping When Going Out To Eat?

The reason I bring all of this up is to point out that I know and have experienced life working in the food industry and because of that, I've always made a point to be a good tipper. I eat out fairly often and I try to leave at least a 20% tip everywhere.

That's why I was a little confused about how to handle a line item that appeared on my check when I recently ate at a popular Duluth restaurant. The check looked like every other check, except for an additional line that read "Kitchen Tip". I thought to myself, what is the expectation here?

Our table of 5 ordered burgers and tacos and while they took a little longer than normal, the conversation was fun and we weren't in any hurry. When the food arrived it was good, easily meeting our expectations. The bottom line was I couldn't complain about the food or service, so how does one handle tipping in this situation, with that additional line for the kitchen?

How Do You Handle The 'KItchen Tip' Option?

Putting the kitchen tip option isn't new, many places across the United States have placed that on checks to help close the back-of-house pay gap and help with employee retention. It doesn't bother me that it's on there, I just wonder what the expectation is.

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What do you do in this situation? Restaurants may say there is no expectation, it's just there as an option. However, many people see a line item like this and feel guilty if they leave it blank.

The bottom line is you can only spend so much if you want to continue to go out to eat, so where does that additional tip money come from? Are people cutting back on how much they tip servers so they can afford to tip something for the kitchen or others?

What Are Restaurant Tipping Expectations In The U.S.?

There seem to be clear guidelines when it comes to tipping other positions at restaurants. According to TableAgent.com, the appropriate amount to tip servers depends on your service:

15% is appropriate for average service; 20% if your server is above average. You should feel free to tip above 20% if you received excellent service. If you received poor service, it is better to talk to the manager than skip on the tip. Leaving no tip does not correct the problem of poor service.

When it comes to tipping other restaurant staff:

  • Host - No tip is necessary unless a special service was performed, then tip appropriately for the size of the favor.
  • Bartenders – 15% of the tab or $1 for beer or wine
  • Coat check steward - $1 per coat
  • Sommelier (wine steward) – 15% of the bottle price
  • Restroom attendants - $0.50 to $1
  • Parking attendants - $1 to $3

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Of course, they make no mention of tipping the kitchen, so what do you think is fair? Are tipping expectations getting out of hand across the country? I'm curious to read what you and others have to say or how it's been handled in the past.

Perhaps we can get a consensus on this, which will help with expectations moving forward. Bon ap·pé·tit!

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